Bookly brings e-books to Mxit

A new app for social network Mxit has been developed to help get South African youngsters reading while at the same time offering publishers access to a segment of the market they don’t currently reach. By Craig Wilson.

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Digital agency Native has launched an application for Mxit called Bookly. It turns the mobile social network and instant messaging platform into a pocket-sized e-reader. Though limited to mainstream publishers for now, Native hopes the app will eventually prove useful to the education sector.

The app allows users to download and read e-books on their mobile phones. They can create a personal library of content and make bookmarks and notes as they read.

Levon Rivers, Native’s head of inventions, says the company chose to develop for Mxit because of the reach the platform, both in terms of the number of users of the service and the range of mobile phones supported — it works on even the most basic feature phones.

Launched less than two weeks ago, Bookly currently has about 200 titles on offer and Rivers says Native will add between 10 and 15 new titles per month to the catalogue.

Bookly uses material from Project Gutenberg — which offers works that are out of copyright in various formats — and Feedbooks to source the free titles it carries. “That’s where we get our back catalogue,” Rivers explains.

In addition to the free content, two commercial publishers — Random House Struik and Modjaji Books — are offering selected titles via Bookly for a fee. Users can purchase books one chapter at a time or all at once with the average going rate for a chapter around R1,50 and whole books priced around R30.

Native is in talks with other publishers about joining Bookly, Rivers says. “We’re trying to tell publishers that Bookly can connect them to a new market that wouldn’t be buying their books anyway. Bookly could help grow readers to become the sorts who will buy books. For now, though, it’s more of a marketing tool for publishers than it is about revenue.”

Nevertheless, there is money to be made from paid titles. Users can only buy content using Mxit’s currency, Moola. Moola, in turn, can be purchased using mobile airtime. Rivers says there is a revenue-sharing agreement between Mxit, Native and publishers and that operators see a cut when airtime is purchased to use as Moola.

Native is also interested in adding textbooks to Bookly, but this will require working with academic publishers and government. “We want to get some proper numbers and possibly find a backer, like a banking partner, so that we can show that it’s viable before we approach government,” he says.

Since Bookly was launched a fortnight ago, there have been over 1m pageviews in the app, 100 000 unique visitors, and 230 000 total visitors. “People are using it during commuting hours and evenings, which suggests it’s doing what we hoped.”

Mxit users can add Bookly as a contact to start using the service or can download it from Mxit’s app store.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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